Bill Shine, Trump’s Top Communicator, Was Questioned by Federal Prosecutors

Bill Shine, the White House deputy chief of staff for communications, arriving in London last week. He steered clear of any public role in mitigating the turmoil from the president’s trip through Europe.

WASHINGTON — Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News hired this month as President Trump’s communications chief, brought conservative credentials and heavy baggage with him into the White House. President Trump embraced the former and ignored the latter.

Mr. Shine, now struggling to limit the damage from Mr. Trump’s performance on Monday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was ousted from Fox News last year in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal at the network.

Mr. Shine was never publicly accused of harassment, but he was accused in multiple civil lawsuits of covering up misconduct by Roger E. Ailes, the founding chairman of Fox News, and dismissing concerns from colleagues who complained.

Mr. Shine’s appointment to the White House job has drawn criticism from some women who worked for him at Fox News, and has brought new scrutiny of his record there. In one previously undisclosed action, Mr. Shine was subpoenaed last year by a federal grand jury in New York as part of a criminal investigation into Fox News’s handling of sexual harassment complaints, according to a document viewed by The New York Times.

The questions about Mr. Shine’s tenure at Fox News are not the only issues complicating his early days in one of the most challenging jobs in Washington. (He is the fourth person in 18 months to hold the post under Mr. Trump, and others have filled in.)

His wife, Darla, was found to have made racially charged remarks on a Twitter account that has since been deleted. And he had barely settled into the West Wing as deputy chief of staff for communications before Mr. Trump set off a storm of criticism over his stance toward Russia and Mr. Putin.

Mr. Shine was aboard Air Force One for Mr. Trump’s turbulent swing through Europe last week. But he steered clear of any public role in mitigating the turmoil, telling reporters that he had only been on the job a few days and that the trip was orchestrated “pre-me.”

Unlike Anthony Scaramucci, who a year ago lasted only 10 tumultuous days in the role, Mr. Shine has kept a low public profile. He has generally followed internal chains of command, two West Wing officials said, trying to work through the chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

To Mr. Trump, who was friends with Mr. Ailes and who wooed Mr. Shine for months, the Fox News connection is a huge positive. Mr. Shine is close to Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who is among the president’s highest-profile public supporters and private advisers. Mr. Trump believes Mr. Shine keenly understands how to connect with the Fox News audience, considered a proxy for the president’s political base.

In hiring Mr. Shine, Mr. Trump ignored advisers who worried that Mr. Shine’s legal exposure in the harassment cases was not fully known, and that the hire could again draw attention to accusations from at least 19 women of sexual misconduct by Mr. Trump before he became president.

“Our president is telling the world he doesn’t care about creating a healthy work environment,” said Rudi Bakhtiar, a former Fox News correspondent who was fired after she reported sexual harassment by a colleague in 2007. She ultimately reached a $675,000 settlement with Fox News.

“It’s a boy’s club,” she said. “They take care of each other.”

Accusations that Mr. Shine enabled or covered up Mr. Ailes’s alleged sexual misconduct were aired most prominently in civil suits as well as legal complaints that led to out-of-court settlements with Fox News and its parent, 21st Century Fox. Mr. Shine was also of interest to prosecutors running a criminal investigation into Fox News’s handling of the sexual harassment complaints.

After receiving the federal subpoena last year, Mr. Shine did not testify to the grand jury but instead agreed to a voluntary interview with prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, according to a person familiar with the situation. It is not known specifically what Mr. Shine was asked.

But around the same time, prosecutors were seeking information elsewhere about whether Mr. Shine played a role in intimidating and discrediting women who claimed sexual misconduct at Fox News, in reaching secret settlements to silence them and in hiding from public scrutiny settlements paid from corporate funds, according to a person directly involved in the investigation.

Mr. Shine was never charged. Mr. Ailes died in May 2017, and the federal investigation recently appeared to have gone dormant, according to people familiar with the case. Mr. Shine has denied any wrongdoing.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, declined to comment.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Mr. Trump, said Mr. Shine “helped to build the most successful cable news network in American history amidst a deluge of criticism and outright ridicule.”

At Fox News, Mr. Shine was ensconced in an office with multiple television screens, one seemingly always tuned to the Golf Channel, according to former colleagues. Current and former Fox News employees said he earned affection among some for coolheaded management of an often raucous workplace.

That experience could come in handy in helping oversee a staff of about three dozen in a White House known for infighting and chaotic messaging.

Mr. Shine is again serving a volatile, headstrong boss. The past week was a lesson in the scale of the challenge, as the communications team floundered after the news conference on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in which Mr. Trump sided with Mr. Putin and undercut American intelligence findings that Moscow worked to undermine the 2016 presidential election. Throughout the week, the White House’s public messaging was erratic.

At Fox News, Mr. Shine was known as a “butler” to Mr. Ailes, but not as a skilled public communicator.

In his rare interactions with reporters outside Fox News, he spoke from prepared notes, former colleagues say.

Greta Van Susteren, a former Fox News host who named her cat after Mr. Shine, called her former boss “an honorable person.”

“He was never accused himself of sexual harassment,” Ms. Van Susteren said. “He was only accused of looking the other way.”

Mr. Shine is mentioned multiple times in a legal complaint that led to a $90 million settlement with a group of 21st Century Fox shareholders last year, over the company board’s handling of the sexual harassment and discrimination scandals at Fox News.

The complaint says that Mr. Shine was directly involved in the case of Laurie Luhn, a former Fox News booking agent who received a $3.15 million settlement in 2011 after making allegations that she experienced 15 years of sexual harassment and psychological torture by Mr. Ailes.

According to the complaint, Ms. Luhn said that the harassment escalated when she started reporting directly to Mr. Shine, with Mr. Ailes regularly demanding that she provide phone sex and recruit other young women for him. When Ms. Luhn had a mental breakdown in winter 2007, Mr. Shine arranged for her to travel to her home state of Texas, the document states. Four years later, he tried to find a psychiatrist to help Ms. Luhn.

Separately from the shareholder suit against 21st Century Fox, Ms. Luhn reached a settlement with Fox News in April 2011, and Mr. Shine signed a supplemental document connected to that agreement, according to the complaint in the shareholder suit.

The court document also recounts Mr. Shine’s role in the dismissal of Ms. Bakhtiar. The document states that Ms. Bakhtiar was fired after she complained that she was propositioned by a colleague who offered her a promotion in exchange for sex. During a mediation, Mr. Shine tried to portray her as a “low-performing journalist,” according to the document.

Ms. Bakhtiar, a former CNN anchor, said in an interview that during the mediation, Mr. Shine presented “a video of my work in front of everyone, hoping to show that I was a bad reporter.” Fox News agreed to settle her claims for $675,000. Ms. Bakhtiar, a seasoned Middle East correspondent, said she was now working on a documentary on the history of the Kurds.

A lawsuit, since settled, brought by the Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky included allegations that Mr. Shine knew for years about Mr. Ailes’s misconduct, and that “Shine and other senior executives kept Ailes’s conduct secret and enabled it.”

Mr. Shine was also mentioned in a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit, which led to a settlement of about $10 million. Kelly Wright, a former Fox News anchor who is black, said in the lawsuit that Mr. Shine regularly asked how black viewers and white viewers reacted to him and that complaints to Mr. Shine about discriminatory treatment were ignored.

The son of a New York police officer, Mr. Shine was born on July 4, 1963, and raised on Long Island, in the white working-class hamlet of Farmingville. He received his communications degree from the State University of New York at Oswego. He joined Fox News in the late 1990s and produced “Hannity & Colmes,” a show whose co-host, Mr. Hannity, became a good friend.

The Shines and Hannitys spend time together at the beach, fishing or golfing; the two men golfed recently with Mr. Trump.

As co-president of Fox News, Mr. Shine “had his own relationship with the president,” Mr. Hannity said in an interview, cultivated during the presidential campaign and debates sponsored by Fox News.

Ms. Shine wrote a book in 2005 titled “Happy Housewives” that discusses her marriage.

Her website, “Darla Shine’s Happy Housewives Club,” features a photograph of her wearing an apron over a black tulle cocktail dress, brandishing a feather duster. “The days of the housewife hag image are over,” she declared.

Her pro-Trump Twitter account went dark on the day her husband’s appointment was announced amid media scrutiny of her messages.

During the uproar over family separations at the southern border, she posted on Twitter, “Let’s unite the families, put them on busses and drop them at the Canadian border.”

Ms. Shine complained more than once on Twitter about society’s norms governing racist speech, asking why it was fine for a racial epithet to be used repeatedly in a rap song but not acceptable for her to sing the word out loud.

Mr. Shine’s career at Fox News took a turn two years ago with the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse that brought down Mr. Ailes and then the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who was connected to at least six publicly known settlements involving allegations of harassment, totaling about $45 million.

Mr. Shine, who had advocated keeping Mr. O’Reilly at the network after his record had become public, was forced out after the revelations.

Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor whose sexual harassment suit against Mr. Ailes first put a spotlight on the network, reacted angrily to Mr. Shine’s White House appointment. On Twitter, she wrote: “Life ... works in mysterious ways.”

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